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Collars & Cuffs - AKA The Day I Met John McClelland

Geoff Wicken discusses domestic duties with one of our finest centre-backs


When you cross paths with a professional footballer – with any celebrity, probably – there are certain rules you feel you should follow. If making eye contact, a cursory nod seems appropriate: it shows you’ve recognized them, but also that you’ve chosen not to disturb their peace. I felt particularly good about that routine when Jarvis Cocker, encountered on a London Overground train en route to the volleyball at the 2012 London Olympics (me that is, not him, although I suppose he might also have had tickets) nodded back.

There can however be times when you bump into a grade one hero, and dignity is not always maintained. A workmate of mine is a serious aficionado of 1960s pop music, and not so long ago was browsing the menswear section in Selfridges on Oxford Street. As he tells the story, his eye was drawn to a nice line in Beatles-themed shirts with cartoon ‘Yellow Submarine’ detailing on the insides of the collars and cuffs, although he ultimately judged them a little on the pricey side and turned away, wallet still in pocket. As he did so, he found himself looking at none other than Paul McCartney. He felt obliged to engage the great man in conversation, but was overcome by the combination of occasion and location.

My Friend: “So, Paul, what are you doing here in Selfridges?” Paul McCartney: “Er, shopping.”

That was it. No discussion of the finer points of Revolver, or the role that Yoko Ono might have played in the disintegration of the Beatles. He even failed to point Paul towards the ‘Yellow Submarine’ shirts with their natty collars and cuffs. He had managed to ask the most ludicrous question he could have conjured up had he thought about it all day. His embarrassment lives with him still.

I’m happy to say that I emerged from my social interaction with John McClelland with a more satisfying shirt tale.

I’d been invited to a Saturday evening party at a friend’s house in North Watford. He said he thought John Barnes (John Barnes!) and one or two other Watford players might turn up, dragged along by friends of his who knew them, once the team got back from that day’s away match – a friendly at Exeter, arranged in haste after a home match was frozen off. The Watford FC Archive shows this was 15 February 1986.

Hard as it was to believe, John Barnes, Tony Coton and John McClelland didn’t have anything better to do after a three-hour coach journey back from Devon, and halfway through the evening the three of them – two leading international footballers and England’s rightful number one – walked into my friend’s terraced house on Leavesden Road.

John Barnes was impossibly charismatic. Many of my fellow party-goers swarmed around him as he held court in the kitchen. Tony Coton’s reputation preceded him; he was left largely to his own devices and spent his evening stationed close to a beer barrel with a couple of muckers, glowering at anyone who dared to peep in his direction.

You would have recognised either of them anywhere. John McClelland, though, looked utterly normal: a perfectly sensible haircut (courtesy of ‘Blow Your Top’ in Kings Langley, I had it on good authority) and a physique which didn’t imply he spent two hours on the weights every morning. Most people there wouldn’t have recognised him as a professional footballer, let alone one who would be travelling to Mexico to represent his country at the World Cup Finals in a few months.

My opening gambit was to enquire how the team had got on that afternoon. My man at the game reported that it had been a 4-0 victory. After that…well, I remember him saying that he didn’t actually like football very much (which must have been quite a curse for someone so good at it!) but otherwise I don’t recall any of our conversational topics bar one. I can’t imagine how or why, but we got onto the matter of household tasks. John confessed that he found ironing his shirts to be particularly tedious, and his quickwin approach was just to do the collars and cuffs. I have remembered that to this day. So it is that, when needs must, and time is tight, I am always ready to apply the ‘Macker’ ironing technique.

I learned a few months ago that John is working on a book with a co-writer. I imagine it will be an autobiography, but I hold out the hope that, as well as his reflections on a distinguished playing career, it might contain a selection of household tips. If so, I might even be tempted to pay a visit to Selfridges to see whether I could purchase one of those ‘Yellow Submarine’ shirts. John McClelland’s advice would be perfect for keeping its collars and cuffs in pristine condition.